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Tara Lipinski, Johnny Weir preview Grand Prix Final men’s, pairs competitions

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There was some debate about the Grand Prix Final men’s competition two weeks ago, but now there is a clear favorite.

Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu is expected to become the first man to win three straight titles at the Grand Prix Final, the most prestigious annual figure skating competition outside of the World Championships (in Boston next spring).

The Barcelona event, which features the top six (or seven) skaters per discipline from this fall, takes place this weekend.

Icenetwork.com will provide live coverage of all programs for subscribers. NBC will air coverage Dec. 20 from 4-6 p.m. ET.

Here’s the schedule:

Thursday
Pairs short program — 2:30 p.m. ET
Men’s short program — 3:55 p.m. ET

Friday
Short dance — 1:05 p.m. ET
Pairs free skate — 2:20 p.m. ET
Women’s short program — 3:55 p.m. ET

Saturday
Free dance — 11:25 p.m. ET
Women’s free skate — 1:45 p.m. ET
Men’s free skate — 3 p.m. ET

Here are men’s and pairs previews with thoughts from NBC Olympics analysts Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir:

Men’s Field (Best Grand Prix qualifying total score)
Yuzuru Hanyu
(322.40 WR) — 2014 Olympic, World champ, 2013-14 GPF champ
Javier Fernandez (271.43) — 2015 World champ
Patrick Chan (271.14) — 2011-13 World champ, 2014 Olympic silver medalist
Jin Boyang (266.43) — 2015 World junior silver medalist
Shoma Uno (257.43) — 2015 World junior champ
Daisuke Murakami (252.25) — Grand Prix Final debut

Preview
Japan’s Hanyu is favored to become the first man to win three straight Grand Prix Finals, two weeks after he shattered the short program and free skate records under the decade-old scoring system at NHK Trophy in Japan.

The field includes the last three men to win World titles in Hanyu, Fernandez and Chan.

Spain’s Fernandez, the home-ice favorite who beat Hanyu at last season’s Worlds, was the only singles skater to win both of their Grand Prix series events this fall and could have been the favorite until Hanyu’s effort in Japan.

Chan returned after a one-year break from competition to win Skate Canada (over Hanyu) in October.

Jin and Uno, both born in 1997, are senior-level rookies this season and may be wildcards. Both are known for their strong quadruple jumps.

Lipinski’s Take
“Watching [Hanyu] skate in Japan, it’s hard to imagine what could beat that. But I think if there’s anyone that can beat that, it is Javi. If Yuzu skates the way that he did in Japan, and Javi skates clean, of course it’s going to go to Yuzu. But I feel like Yuzu can’t make that many missteps because Javi with three quads [in a free skate], he’s a threat. I would definitely say it’s Yuzuru’s to lose, but I don’t think it’s as wide of a gap as everyone thinks.”

Weir’s Take
“Riding the high off the performance at Grand Prix Japan, I don’t know how Yuzuru’s going to deal with that. I mean, it’s a lot of pressure he’s put on himself, to be better than himself. But even if he skated like that and made one mistake, he’d still have it all over the other men.”

“Patrick Chan is having somewhat of a slow comeback. He was great at Skate Canada and rough at Grand Prix France in the short program. Javi is great and wonderful, but he does consistently make mistakes. I think if you’re comparing those top three guys at the moment, Yuzu is the one to beat. And he is almost untouchable, if he can deliver like that [in Japan]. But he’s got Shoma Uno, who also is skating very well, gets big scores. But I don’t know if Shoma is quite ready to outscore Yuzuru.”

“You can definitely call Shoma Uno and Boyang Jin the rookies of the Grand Prix Final, it’s both of their first Grand Prix Finals, so it’s an obvious thing to say that. But in two [Grand Prix series] competitions they were both able to put out so many wonderful quads, quad Lutz being the most important. … If we’re considering that Yuzu can skate the same as he did at the Grand Prix of Japan, and everyone’s fighting for second, I wouldn’t mind predicting Shoma Uno as a possible silver medalist.”

MORE: Weir ranks Hanyu’s record skates with his all-time favorites

Pairs Field
Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford
— Canada
Yuko Kavaguti/Alexander Smirnov — Russia
Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov — Russia
Alexa Scimeca/Chris Knierim — U.S.
Yu Xiaoyu/Jin Yang — China
Julianna Seguin/Charlie Bilodeau — Canada
Peng Cheng/Zhang Hao — China

Preview
The World champions Duhamel and Radford were the only pair to win both of their qualifying events, but both Russian pairs were within two points of the Canadians’ top score this fall.

Notably absent are Olympic champions Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov and World silver medalists Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, done for the fall due to injuries.

Scimeca and Knierim are the first U.S. pair to make the Grand Prix Final since 2007.

Lipinski’s Take
“What’s exciting is we’re missing a few of the top teams, and that’s a great opportunity for these other skaters, especially now having a U.S. team in the mix, for U.S. pairs that is such a milestone. Are [Scimeca and Knierim] going to win this event? Probably not, but I think this is sort of the time for them to start wedging their way into the top pack of pairs skaters. Meagan and Eric, I love them, there is just something that just sets their skating apart from every other team. It’s always so hard to predict who’s going to come out on top, but I think that they have it.”

Weir’s Take
“I am in love with the programs of Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov from Russia. They haven’t been so consistent this year, but what they have is a style and a presence that’s very, not sultry, but very empowered and very powerful to the audience. If they can get their technical elements together, I definitely think they’re my favorite to take the title. But expect strong performances from Duhamel/Radford. And it’s very exciting that Scimeca and Knierim are in the Final as well. I don’t know how they’ll factor into the medals at the Grand Prix Final, but it’s certainly wonderful that American pairs is back, stepping in the right direction with this team.”

MORE: Ashley Wagner eyes history at Grand Prix Final after ‘disaster’ in Japan

David Taylor will not defend wrestling world title

United World Wrestling
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David Taylor waited five years to get his chance at the world championships. The wait will also be a little longer than expected to defend his world title.

Taylor suffered a knee injury in a May 6 match and underwent surgery, according to his social media. He was to face Pat Downey in two weeks for the U.S.’ spot at 86kg at September’s world championships, but that’s not happening now.

“The nature of competing as a professional athlete is a delicate one,” was posted on Taylor’s accounts. “One year, you find yourself winning the tilte of the 86 kg World Champion and being voted best pound for pound wrestler on earth. In the blink of an eye, you lose yourself in thought over the noisy lull of the MRI machine, hoping that the pain in your knee isn’t what you fear most.”

Taylor, 28, was one of three U.S. men to earn maiden world titles last October in Budapest, along with fellow former NCAA standouts J’den Cox and Kyle Dake.

Taylor upset Iran’s Olympic and world champion Hassan Yazdani in his first match at worlds. He suffered a knee injury in his second match and said he was kicked in the face in the semifinals. He then dumped Turkey’s top-seeded Fatih Erdin in the final, scoring a two-point takedown in the first 10 seconds and getting a 12-2 tech fall.

“To be able to earn it the way that I earned it, there’s no easy way,” Taylor said. “I wrestled every single best guy every single round.”

Taylor became the oldest first-time Olympic or world champion for USA Wrestling since 2006. He had finished second or third at trials for the 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2017 World teams and the 2016 Olympic team. He is one of four men to win the NCAA Wrestler of the Year award multiple times, doing so in 2012 and 2014 for Penn State.

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MORE: Helen Maroulis on why she missed world team trials

Sam Girard, Olympic short track champion, surprisingly retires at age 22

Sam Girard
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Sam Girard, who avoided a three-skater pileup to win the PyeongChang Olympic 1000m, retired from short track speed skating at age 22, saying he lost the desire to compete.

“I leave my sport satisfied with what I have accomplished,” Girard said in a press release. “This decision was very well thought through. I am at peace with the choice that I’ve made and am ready to move onto the next step.”

Girard and girlfriend and fellow Olympic skater Kasandra Bradette announced their careers end together in a tearful French-language press conference in Quebec on Friday.

Girard detailed the decision in a letter, the sacrifices made to pursue skating. Notably, moving from his hometown of Ferland-et-Boilleau, population 600, to Montreal in 2012. His hobbies had been of the outdoor variety, but he now had to drive an hour and a half from the training center just to go fishing.

In PyeongChang, Girard led for most of the 1000m final, which meant he avoided chaos behind him on the penultimate lap of the nine-lap race. Hungarian Liu Shaolin Sandor‘s inside pass took out South Koreans Lim Hyo-Jun and Seo Yi-Ra, leaving just Girard and American John-Henry Krueger.

Girard maintained his lead, crossing .214 in front of Krueger to claim the title. He also finished fourth in the 500m and 1500m and earned bronze in the relay.

“My first Olympics, won a gold medal, can’t ask for more,” he said afterward.

Though Girard was already accomplished — earning individual silver medals at the 2016 and 2017 Worlds — he came to PyeongChang as the heir apparent to Charles Hamelin, a roommate on the World Cup circuit whom Girard likened to a big brother. Girard earned another world silver medal this past season.

Hamelin, after taking individual gold in 2010 and 2014, left PyeongChang without an individual medal in what many expected to be his last Olympics. However, he went back on a retirement vow and continued to skate through the 2018-19 season.

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MORE: J.R. Celski explains decision to retire